Monday, April 11, 2011

Everyone Should be a Film Student

I've been a TA for BYU's introductory film class for three years now. I became convinced some time ago that this class (TMA 102) should be a general education requirement for all students. With each passing semester, I feel more passionately that this is true.

Here's my reasoning:

An "Introduction to Literature" class is a GE requirement in most schools, and for good reason--books are and have been a fundamental method by which society communicates with itself. The class's purpose is to attempt to open the door for its students to the world of literature, so that they can then become informed participates in the ongoing conversation of that medium. In short, books are really important, so any education worth anything must attempt to help students achieve a certain level of literacy.

Books used to be THE primary medium of cultural dialog. Popular books would enter into the public's awareness, and achieve a broad audience. Now, however, a "bestseller" will get ready by, comparatively, a tiny fraction of its society's population. It is very, very seldom that a book sells more than a million copies these days.

I'm not going to say that movies are more important than books, but it would be easy to make a strong case that they have become more relevant. If you ask a crowd of a hundred random people how many of them had read the latest "bestseller," how many hands would go up? How about if you asked them to raise their hands if they'd seen Toy Story 3? Or Inception. Or the latest Transformers.

Everyone should be a student of film. Yes, I also believe everyone should study literature, but I think it is imperative that we study the dominant medium of our era. I don't think everyone should go to college and major in film, but I do think it has become incumbent upon us as members of this modern world to become literate in our primary mode of cultural communication.

It's about keeping our freedoms of thought, and our intelligence. In other, older civilizations, the literate controlled the uneducated. It is no different today. If we refuse to study the language of our media, and instead content ourselves with consuming upon our lusts, as it were, we will lose our intellectual and emotional freedom. Not that anyone will take it from us--we'll simply give it away.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on the subject? Am I taking this too far? Not far enough? What are some ways that you study film? Share them in the comments below.


  1. Dead on. TMA 102 has been and always will be a class I recommend to every student.

  2. I agree with you whole heartedly. I took the equivalent class at UVU and loved it. If I had any more time to spend on non-major classes, I'd take a new film class each semester.

    Arthur C. Clarke was a very big believer in the evolution of storytelling. And storytelling is exactly what you described film and literature to be. He knew that film would one day be the dominate form. It's gone from oral, to print and now to motion pictures. It is a way to communicate with the masses, with the whole world.

    I would vehemently disagree with anyone that claims literature is a higher form of communication/art than film is. Sure, there's a lot of horrible movies, but there's also a lot of horrible books. Some (books or movies) are made for strict entertainment purposes, others are very much cultural dialogue. What a novel might take pages to describe, film-makers can show in a single shot.

    Anyway, that's my two cents.

  3. Great thoughts, Jon. I'll add that even the crap books and movies are still social and cultural dialog. Twilight comes readily to mind as a super-significant work that absolutely does not stand up under any kind of close artistic scrutiny. Same with Transformers 2, in particular.

    I will also never undervalue literature. Those "pages" of description can do things a film cannot, which is why we should continue to maintain our literacy as a society. We become intellectually poorer as we loose our ability to read and write well.

  4. Spot on, bro. Sometimes I wish that there were a way for non-students to take it, as it's such an essential course.

  5. ... And apparently I show up as the BYU Film Scoring Club...

    Michael Bahnmiller

  6. I agree with you. Thank goodness for books, I suppose. While it's certainly helpful, an actual class isn't essential to initiate the study of film.

  7. My Film and Lit. Class, here at BYU w/Prof. Lundquist, is one of the most significant classes I've taken since returning to school because it addresses this very issue. We discuss greats in both categories and what each medium has to offer, why it's helpful or not... just last night I realized that C.S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed" had fed my mind but the movie, "Shadow Lands," managed to pull out my emotions as I watched the character depicting Lewis desolve into tears. I believe our approach should be to marry the two: books and film, in attempting to educate.

  8. The Film and Literature classes are really great at BYU. I took one and had a great experience, and I've heard similar things from everyone I know who's taken one.

    Of course, that class has far more to do with adaptation theory and the relationship between the two mediums (incredibly important stuff) than it does with film literacy itself.


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